Friday, July 25, 2008

Recommended Article on Interpreting Genesis

I'd like to recommend the following article by Clark Pinnock. It is called, "Climbing Out of a Swamp: The Evangelical Struggle to Understand the Creation Texts" [Interpretation 43 (1989) 143-155]

Pinnock argues convincingly (to me, anyway) for the importance of reading the Creation texts as they stand, in their ancient and authorial context first and foremost. In the end, he comes out at the position to which I have come, and I will therefore use the points made in this article when I make my case for a literary framework interpretation of Genesis 1.

He does not go far enough, however, in relating these texts to their literary context in the Torah and the Sitz im Lieben of Moses and the Israelites. I realize this may be beyond his purpose in the article, nevertheless, grasping this is essential for truly understanding the purpose and meaning of the text, and therefore arguing against those who would hijack it for other agendas, such as trying to prove a particular scientific viewpoint.


Anonymous said...

One more time...the straight forward, un-hijacked, reading of the text.

The following is taken from the book; Refuting Compromise, by Dr. Jonathan Sarfati. P137:

James Barr was a leading Hebrew scholar, and Oriel professor of the interpretation of Holy Scripture, Oxford University, England. His studies on Hebrew word meanings were a milestone, overthrowing the faulty methodology of trying to derive meaning from etymology (derivation), or the “root fallacy”. While he would be on the liberal side of any liberal/conservative divide, he would be more properly regarded as a neo-Orthodox interpreter. So he does not believe Genesis, but he understood what the Hebrew so clearly teaches:

"...probably, so far as I know, there is no professor of Hebrew or Old Testament at any world-class university who does not believe that the writer(s) of Genesis 1-11 intended to convey to their readers the ideas that:
(a) creation took place in a series of six days which were the same as the days of 24 hours we now experience,
(b) the figures contained in the Genesis genealogies provided by simple addition a chronology from the beginning of the world up to later stages in the biblical story,
(c)Noah's flood was understood to be worldwide and extinguish all human and animal life except for those in the ark. [1]"

Some try to avoid the force of Barr's argument by pointing out that Barr was an avowed enemy of inerrancy, but they miss the whole point. That is, he is a hostile witness, which of course makes the case even more strongly. He knows what Genesis really means, even though he doesn't believe it.

1.J. Barr, letter to David C.C. Watson, April 23, 1984

Anonymous said...

The irony of the literary framework viewpoint is that it's a compromise position based on an acceptance of a flawed scientific viewpoint. Therefore, those who hold to literary framework are being driven by science; while those you accuse of hijacking the text are actually following the proper interpretation. (see James Barr's comments above)

Huh...funny how that works out.

Michael Mercer said...

We could play debating scholars all day, because there are many other leading students of Hebrew and Scripture who disagree with Barr, and not because they want to make peace with modern science. In fact, a literary interpretation is found in many ancient Jewish approaches to Genesis and in the Christian church at least as far back as St. Augustine.

And, by the way, I hope you can see that own approach has absolutely nothing to do with an acceptance of any scientific view. My desire in my own studies to focus on the meaning of the text in its Biblical context.

Also, a literary reading in no way is meant to diminish the historicity of the events being described. It merely recognizes that history can be written in different forms. After all, we have four Gospels that relate the same history very differently.

Anonymous said...

To anonymous: What is the "straightforward, unhijacked" reading of the text? When I read Genesis 1-2, I have alot of questions. Like, was there light before the sun? What is the "firmament"? How could there be literal 24-hour days and nights without the sun, moon and stars? How does Genesis 1:1 relate to the rest of the chapter? Why does chapter 1 say that it took six days for God to create, but 2:4 says he did it in a day?

It seems to me that Genesis is anything but simple and straightforward!

Michael Mercer said...

To the second anonymous commenter...

These are exactly some of the problems involved in reading Genesis 1 as history written in the style of a journalist giving an eyewitness report.

An historian can and often does organize his historical report CHRONOLOGICALLY--first this happened, then that. But history can also be organized LOGICALLY--according to certain themes or patterns that show a sense of logical purpose or development.

Authors do this all the time. For example, a biography of Abraham Lincoln might start in chapter 1 with a reenactment of the Gettysburg Address. This was obviously not the first event in Lincoln's life or career, but because the author believes that this speech best captures the essence of Lincoln, he puts it first and uses its themes as the organizing principle of his biography.

I happen to think that Genesis 1 is written according to a LOGICAL SCHEME to achieve a theological purpose--to show WHO created all things and prepared this world for human life. God is portrayed as a Master Workman building a Temple, organizing his work as a temple-builder would do, forming its sacred spaces and then filling them with sacred objects and persons.